Sam Elliott Delivers Career Best In ‘The Hero’

Without Sam Elliott I’m certain director Brett Haley would not have made The Hero. Just a young buck when he made his big-screen debut in the classic western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Elliott has been a Hollywood mainstay for more than forty years. He brings all of that experience to his character Lee Hayden.

Most recognizable for his trademark mustache (he looks naked without it) and his pronounced voice, it only seems fitting that we hear the actor first before laying eyes upon him. The screen is black and all we hear is:“Lone Star BBQ Sauce. The perfect partner for your chicken.”

When Sam Elliott appears he’s in an audio booth, obviously recording lines for a barbecue sauce ad. The audio speaker crackles on and a voice asks him to recite the lines again. He complies, much to his chagrin. Just another day in the life of Lee Hayden, an actor whose gigs are him being heard and not seen, his inimitable voice a valuable asset as he ages out of acting roles. Lee is a western actor of some repute, but his defining role (also called “The Hero”) was forty years ago.

A Hollywood trend, and particular to independent releases, is making movies for older audiences and allowing an underrated actor or actress to show his/her range. We’ve seen it before in the Oscar-winning Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges and more recently Hello, My Name is Doris with Sally Field. Now it is Sam Elliot’s turn with The Hero.

Brett Haley’s follow-up to 2015’s I’ll See You in My Dreams starring Blythe Danner and Martin Starr might as well be called Sam Elliott: The Movie. Though pure fiction, it is hard to separate the actor from the fictional Lee Hayden. Both are Western icons whose best days seem far behind. Though, unlike Hayden, Elliott’s career seems to be on the upswing; still lacking a defining role for his then-burgeoning career, however. Me personally, I always liked him as Cher’s biker boyfriend in Mask, bouncing around with Patrick Swayze in Road House, and of course as Virgil Earp in Tombstone.

The Hero is tailored as a showcase piece for Elliot, and a well deserving one at that. But Haley’s film carries with it a slim narrative that some may feel as a deterrent. Once Lee is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, we take a journey as he takes stock of his unsatisfying life and career decline.

Along the way we are introduced to his small inner circle. Nick Offerman is his drug-dealing bud, Jeremy, with whom they worked together on a short-lived TV western series. Then there’s Lee’s ex-wife, Valarie (Katharine Ross) and estranged daughter, Lucy (Krysten Ritter). Finally, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), a stand-up comedian and one of Jeremy’s customers. Lee and Charlotte have a brief introduction before becoming romantically entangled.

The Hero is visually arresting with Haley allowing Elliott to tower in scenes of stillness – the camera tracking the actor as he moves stoically on a Malibu beach or focused on his grizzled visage as he looks over a bluff. Then again the director also includes dream sequences of Lee making one last great picture. These snippets are interesting but are oddly timed when inserted into the film.

Haley is not shy when putting Hollywood on notice of what is expected. Lee sleeping with Charlotte, a woman half is age, is something we’ve seen countless times in other films. But Haley follows the tryst where Lee complicates matters in a scene as he struggles with the age difference. The power of social media is also the new normal when Lee’s impulsive behavior at a western legends banquet finds him a YouTube sensation overnight. Suddenly a social media star, Lee starts to receive offers to screen test for blockbusters. His career is on the up while his health is on the decline. A cruel twist of fate.

The Hero is more performance than narrative as Sam Elliot carries the weight of the story on his finely-combed mustache. Lee Hayden is a career-defining role for the screen veteran. Regardless if Brett Haley’s low-budget drama will find traction in theaters stuffed with junk food cinema it’s of little consequence. Smart viewers will find The Hero and be whisked away to cinematic nirvana with Sam Elliott’s voice accompanying you.

Director: Brett Haley
Writer: Brett Haley and Marc Basch
Cast: Sam Elliott, Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, Nick Offerman, Katharine Ross
Rating: R (for drug use, language and some sexual content)
Running Time:
93 minutes

1 Comment

  1. Barbara Bird

    June 21, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    love spidèrman

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